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La Jolla Cove Swim returns, bringing a ‘humbling’ and ‘hyped up’ experience

An Olympian, teenagers and dozens of locals were among the more than 500 swimmers who took to the water Sept. 11 for the La Jolla Cove Swim in 1- and 3-mile heats.

Just 14 minutes after she went in, 22-year-old Kate Sanderson of Los Angeles crossed the finish line to win the 1-mile race.

The 3-mile winner was Cameron Whiting, 29, of Santa Monica, who swam to Scripps Pier and back in one hour, one minute and 10 seconds.

Sanderson, who swam for Team Canada in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, told the La Jolla Light after her win that the swim was “super fun, the water was really nice, and this is such a cool location.”

The Hart sisters, Lucy, 13, and Kelsi, 16, also completed the 1-mile swim.

Lucy said she likes swimming in the ocean and “seeing all the animals,” but added that the event was challenging because “people kept swimming over me.”

Kelsi said “it was challenging toward the end, so I just focused on finishing, but overall, it was fun.”

For Team BAEwatch — La Jollan Eric Fletcher, former Town Council secretary Brooke Baginski and current Town Council Vice President Rick Dagon — the experience was “better than we could have ever expected,” Dagon said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better day with better conditions. We feel really blessed.”

Baginski said the swim was “humbling” and Fletcher said there was “so much energy with everyone hyped up.”

Though the event provided a memorable experience for many, it was under threat of postponement by Tropical Storm Kay off the coast of Mexico, which brought rainfall and strong currents to the Southern California region in the days leading to the swim.

San Diego County’s Department of Environmental Health and Quality recommends avoiding ocean swimming for 72 hours after a rain because of the risk of infection from bacteria in stormwater runoff. The bacteria typically is highest the day of and the day after rain and returns to normal levels after three days.

Swim organizer Judy Adams Halter sent an email Sept. 8 to people planning to participate to alert them of a potential postponement.

“One of our main concerns is safety, not only for our swimmers but safety for our safety crew out on the water,” she wrote. “We do not want to put anyone’s health and safety in jeopardy.”

Weather forecasts indicated 4- to 6-foot waves, strong currents and a high tide at the time of the swim, with wind gusts expected to die down ahead of the event.

But with clear and calm waters, the event was able to take place.

Proceeds will benefit the Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego, which provides youth swim lessons, and La Jolla’s Concerts by the Sea, a series of outdoor performances to be held in Scripps Park at La Jolla Cove next summer.

The La Jolla Rough Water Swim had been a local staple and one of the world’s most famous open-water swim races since 1916. But it was canceled three times in recent years — once due to construction of The Cove lifeguard tower and twice because of poor water quality. Adams Halter took it on herself to revive the concept of an open-water swim and give it a new name and purpose.

The La Jolla Cove Swim was launched in 2019. ◆